Masti Venkatesha Iyengar

The bugle rock of Basavangudi is a scenic place filled with dense groves of trees , a 1.8 km cobbled stone path for walking and lovely stone benches for the occasional rest for the tired walkers. Inside the park is an old water tank- the outer walls have been re-purposed with murals of famous personalities of Karnataka. And in one of them stands Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, a prolific Kannada writer- recipient of the famous Jnanapita award. I knew nothing much about him, save this. So a bit of research – the google and a couple of books about Masti and I discovered a disciplined, honest, an able administrator not to mention a man with a creative streak in him that made him author 123 Kannada and 17 English books. Here are few tidbits about him.

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Known for his short stories he was honored with the title Rajasevasakta. With more than 123 books under his belt, a D.Lit of both Karnataka and Mysore universities and prior to that District Commissioner of the State, you would think life would have been a smooth journey for him. But it was not so. In fact he suffered hardships throughout his childhood and growing up years.

He was born on June 6, 1891 in Kolar in a small village known as Masti. Son of Ramaswami Iyengar and Tirumallama, he was born in to a rich family. But the family suffered hard times, lost their land. Masti had to bear all this. The plague too had stuck by then. So Masti shifted from his village with his grandfather and moved to Hongenhalli village. His father and brother lost their lives due to plague. Masti had to shift homes,schools. He did his BA from Central College, Bangalore. After that he did his MA in English at Chennai. No matter where he studied, he always managed to stand first. In Madras too he was a gold medalist  and topped his MA.

For some time he worked at the Presidency College of Madras before sitting for the civil services exam at Mysore. And in 1914 he joined government services as Assistant Commissioner and soon rose to become the District Commissioner. However he was bypassed for the post of Minister and a junior got promoted instead of him. For this reason  he resigned from the services in 1943.

Masti’s writing journey began in earnest after this though his first short story was published way back in 1914. Masti wrote under the pen name Srinivasa and when he started out he wanted to write in English. But an encounter with a farmer changed this. During his tax collection rounds when Masti berated a farmer for not paying his dues, the farmer mentioned that he did not know the rules that were all written in English. This prompted Masti to shift to Kannada. His first story was Rangana Maduve and his last was in 1985 and was titled Maatugara Malanna. During his lifetime he wrote essays, short stories, novels, dramas, poems and social stories. His novel Chikkaveera Rajendra won the Jnanapita award in 1983.

His love for Kannada was tremendous. He headed the Kannada Sahitya Parishat and in 1929 headed the Belgavi Kannada Sahitya movement. It is said that he always addressed his talks in Kannada.

Masti died in June  6,1986 at the age of 95. The only memories of him today is the Masti Mane in Gavipuram that has been converted as the office of Masti Venkatesha Jeevana Kaaryalaya[MVJK] Trust. The Trust has preserved Masti’s books and his letters. The road where his 90 plus years home stands has also been named as Masti Venkatesha Iyengar as a tribute to the fourth Jnanapita award of the State.

–Usha

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